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kottke.org posts about TV

RIP Carroll Spinney, Puppeteer of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2019

Sad news from Sesame Street: Carroll Spinney, the puppeteer who played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for almost 50 years, died today at age 85.

Caroll was an artistic genius whose kind and loving view of the world helped shape and define Sesame Street from its earliest days in 1969 through five decades, and his legacy here at Sesame Workshop and in the cultural firmament will be unending. His enormous talent and outsized heart were perfectly suited to playing the larger-than-life yellow bird who brought joy to generations of children and countless fans of all ages around the world, and his lovably cantankerous grouch gave us all permission to be cranky once in a while.

Spinney had retired from the show last year, citing health concerns. Here’s a look at how he operated the Big Bird puppet (more here):

Big Bird Inside

Spinney came out with a book in 2003 called The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons from a Life in Feathers and was the subject of a 2015 documentary called I Am Big Bird. Here’s a trailer:

At Sesame Street creator Jim Henson’s memorial service at Cathedral of St. John the Divine after his unexpected death in 1990, Spinney walked out and, in full Big Bird costume, sang “It Ain’t Easy Being Green” in tribute to his friend:

Total silence after he finished…I can’t imagine there was a dry eye in the house after that. Rest in peace, gentle men.

Do Kids Today Still Like Mister Rogers?

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2019

Fred Rogers and his Neighborhood may seem to belong to a bygone age of slow children’s media, but when Mary Pflum Peterson introduced the show to her four children, she found that they engaged with the show like kids back in the 70s and 80s did.

I asked my youngest two, as they obsessed over the fish, what was it about the show that appealed to them.

After a beat, they gave me that look that parents will readily recognize, the one that best translates to “Isn’t it obvious?”

“He likes kids, Mommy,” my daughter said. “Kids know when a grown-up likes them.”

“And he’s not too loud,” my son added. “When we watch him, there’s no noise. You don’t have to worry about anything.”

Kind and calm. So that explained everything. In a world of so much chaos and noise, kids liked calm sincerity.

The Most Popular TV Shows 1986-2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2019

If you grew up watching TV (and who didn’t?), this bar chart race animation of the 10 most popular primetime TV shows from 1986-2019 is fascinating.

Ranking is based on the following factors: prime-time first 24 hours audience reports, one week of reported statistics for downloaded copies (pirated), one week of streaming services viewership. Numbers are worldwide with significant bias towards US market up until 2002, afterwards it’s balanced by p2p distribution across the globe.

I’d forgotten what a huge hit ER was in the mid-90s. And note that The Simpsons never cracked the top 10. Ah, I didn’t notice that they snuck in briefly during 1996 — thx @ChasingDom. (via waxy)

Spotlight and the Difficulty of Dramatizing Good Journalism

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 22, 2019

For the lastest episode of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak reviews the history of movies about journalism and shows how the makers of Spotlight (and also All the President’s Men) show the often repetitive and tedious work required to do good journalism

I loved Spotlight (and All the President’s Men and The Post), but I hadn’t realized until just now how many of my favorite movies and TV shows of the last few years are basically adult versions of Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day?

Speaking of, watching this video I couldn’t help but think that David Simon1 faced a similar challenge in depicting effective police work in The Wire. Listening to wiretapped conversations, sitting on rooftops waiting for drug dealers to use payphones, and watching container ships unloading are not the most interesting thing in the world to watch. But through careful editing, some onscreen exposition by Lester Freamon, and major consequences, Simon made pedestrian policing engaging and interesting, the heart of the show.

  1. Puschak shared a quote from Simon near the end of the video and Spotlight director Tom McCarthy played the dishonest reporter Scott Templeton in season five of The Wire.

The Succession Theme Works Over Any TV Show Title Sequence

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2019

If you’re having withdrawals from Succession, perhaps this will help a little. A fan created these title sequences of iconic TV shows with the pulsing Succession theme song dubbed over them. The Wire, The Simpsons, and Mad Men are particular favorites of mine:

The Succession theme is to title sequences like what “Christ, what an asshole!” is to New Yorker cartoon captions — it even fits Happy Days (mostly):

If you’d like to try your hand at this, the theme song is available on Spotify. Its composer, Nicholas Britell, also scored Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk.

The Devil Next Door

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2019

Here’s the trailer for a five-episode Netflix series called The Devil Next Door.

The series is about John Demjanjuk, who was living in the US when he was accused of being “Ivan the Terrible”, a particularly brutal guard at the Treblinka death camp.

Born in Ukraine, John (Iwan) Demjanjuk was the defendant in four different court proceedings relating to crimes that he committed while serving as a collaborator of the Nazi regime.

Investigations of Demjanjuk’s Holocaust-era past began in 1975. Proceedings in the United States twice stripped him of his American citizenship, ordered him deported once, and extradited him from the United States twice to stand trial on criminal charges, once to Israel and once to Germany. His trial in Germany, which ended in May 2011, may be the last time that an accused Nazi-era war criminal stands trial. If so, it would mark the culmination of a 65-year period of prosecutions that began with the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1945.

Some facts of Demjanjuk’s past are not in dispute. He was born in March 1920 in Dobovi Makharyntsi, a village in Vinnitsa Oblast of what was then Soviet Ukraine. Conscripted into the Soviet army, he was captured by German troops at the battle of Kerch in May 1942. Demjanjuk immigrated to the United States in 1952 and became a naturalized US citizen in 1958. He settled in Seven Hills, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, and worked for many years in a Ford auto plant.

The Devil Next Door premieres November 4.

My Recent Media Diet, Decorative Gourd Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2019

Every month or two for the past couple of years, I’ve shared the movies, books, music, TV, and podcasts I’ve enjoyed (or not) recently. Here’s everything I’ve “consumed” since last month. It’s a little light because I’ve been working and a full rewatch of The Wire took some time. Stuff in progress includes The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (the kids and I are reading it together), The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, and the second season of Abstract.

The Wire. Over the past two months, I rewatched all 5 seasons of The Wire. It very much holds up and is still the best TV show I’ve ever watched. Season 4 in particular is fantastic and devastating. Even season 5, which seemed a bit outlandish at the time with the serial killer plot, is great. (A+)

Downtown Abbey. Not great but it’s always nice spending some quality time with the Crowley family. (B+)

Mario Kart Tour. There’s something deeply un-Nintendo about this game. The use of all of the casino-like iOS tricks to keep you playing (and hopefully spending money on in-game currency) runs counter to the DNA of the company. $70 for 135 rubies is $20 more than the Switch version of Kart is going for right now on Amazon — ridiculous. And remember that the original Wii periodically suggested taking a break if you’d been playing for awhile? Still, racing in Mario Kart is always fun. When they turn networked multiplayer on, it might be a game-changer. (B+)

Peanut Butter Falcon. Feel-good? Eh. More like heavy-handed treacle. And LeBeouf’s character treats the kid with Down syndrome like a normal person but is creepy and borderline abusive to a girl he likes? Yuck. (C)

Succession. I hate that I love this show so much. (A)

1619. Very good podcast, particularly the third episode about the birth of American music. (A-)

Transparent Musicale Finale. I was skeptical about watching a 2-hour musical to end the series, but I ended up liking it a lot. My god, that last song though… (B+)

Parasite. Downton Abbey a la Bong Joon Ho. (A-)

Bottle Rocket. Rough but many of Anderson’s trademarks are already on display here. (A-)

Diego Maradona. Another examination by Asif Kapadia (Senna, Amy) of how talent and fame can go wrong. (A-)

Kevin Alexander on the Beginning and End of America’s Culinary Revolution (House of Carbs). Listened on a rec from a friend because Alexander’s book sounded interesting, but the bro-ness of the host is almost unbearable. What if the discussion about food was more like sports radio? No thank you. (C-)

Joker. The pre-release coverage of this movie being dangerous or problematic was mostly overblown. (B)

The new MoMA. Full review here. (A-)

Silence and the Presence of Everything (On Being). Really interesting interview with an acoustic ecologist. More here. (A-)

The Testaments. A sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale could have easily gone wrong. This very much did not. (A-)

Tonic. I used this for a few days but the recs weren’t great so I stopped. (C-)

Amazon Go. A marvelous and unnerving experience for this law-abiding introvert. Shopping without interaction was cool, but walking out without paying felt like shoplifting. (B+)

Machine Hallucination. Impressive display, like being immersed in an IMAX movie. But not sure it’s worth the $25 entry fee. (B)

Liberté, Égalité and French Fries (Rough Translation). How do we define work and community in the age of global mega-corporations? This story takes an amazing turn about 20 minutes in. (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Succession’s Preoccupation with the Power of Words (or Lack Thereof)

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 23, 2019

Have you been watching Succession? I feel bad about enjoying watching rich people be horrible to each other, but I do love the show. Evan Puschak rewatched both seasons with a careful eye and noticed the show’s preoccupation with language and how it is used and misused by the characters in the show.

Kendall: Words are just nothing. Complicated airflow.

One of the things I like most about the show is that I can’t figure out whether it’s a comedy or a drama. It’s bitingly funny and satirical but the whole thing is packaged like a drama and there are genuine emotional moments. I felt the same way about Fleabag and Transparent…the combination and subversion of these two familiar buckets of storytelling is part of what makes all of these shows great.

Zach Galifianakis’ Brief Stint at Saturday Night Live

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2019

In this clip from a longer conversation in the Off Camera interview series, Zach Galifianakis talks about his brief two-week stint on Saturday Night Live and how he felt when a sketch he wrote totally bombed at the cast table read.

Here are all 10 clips of the interview. See also Robert Downey Jr. recounting his year-long SNL career.

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner, David Chang’s new Netflix series

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2019

Despite some reservations (a little too bro-y for one thing), I really enjoyed David Chang’s Netflix series Ugly Delicious. So I’m happy to see that he’s got a new series coming out called Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner. The trailer:

In this one, he’s traveling the world with some non-food celebs: he hits Los Angeles with Lena Waithe, Marrakesh with Chrissy Teigen, Phnom Penh with Kate McKinnon, and Vancouver with Seth Rogen. Will watch.

A Dreaming Octopus Changes Color

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2019

Curious about the social behaviors of cephalopods, marine biologist David Scheel brought an octopus named Heidi home to live with him and his teenaged daughter. In this clip from an upcoming PBS show called Octopus: Making Contact, you can see the octopus changing colors while colors while she sleeps, which Scheel speculates is due to actions happening in the octopus’s dream.

If she is dreaming, this is a dramatic moment. You can almost just narrate the body changes and narrate the dream. So here she’s asleep and she sees a crab and her color starts to change a little bit. Then she turns all dark; octopuses will do that when they leave the bottom. This is a camouflage, like she’s just subdued a crab and now she’s going to sit there and eat it, and she doesn’t want anyone to notice her.

This program already aired in the UK with the much snappier title of The Octopus in My House; check out a review here.

Heidi loves to play. Given a toy (an old pill bottle, say), she hurls it round as if it were a swimming aid, and she a toddler newly out of water wings. Scheel has trained her so effectively to pull on a string that activates a buzzer that in the end he has to dismantle the thing if he wants to get a night’s sleep. She loves to touch and be touched, entwining her arms with those of Laurel for minutes at a time. Does she recognise her owners? Indubitably. When Scheel approaches the tank as himself, she rushes to its side, as if in greeting. But when he approaches disguised in a rubber mask, she hides.

(thx, dunstan)

My Recent Media Diet, the “Is It Fall 2019 Already?!” Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2019

Every month or two for the past couple of years, I’ve shared the movies, books, music, TV, and podcasts I’ve enjoyed (or not) recently. Here’s everything I’ve “consumed” since late June. I’d tell you not to pay too much attention to the letter grades but you’re going to pay too much attention to the letter grades anyway so… (p.s. This list was shared last week in Noticing, kottke.org’s weekly newsletter.)

Fiasco (season one). Slow Burn co-creator Leon Neyfakh explores the Florida recount in the 2000 Presidential election. My key takeaway is not that anyone stole the election but that any halfway close election in the US is fundamentally unfair, can easily be swayed in one direction or another, and violates our 14th Amendment rights. I didn’t enjoy this as much as either season of Slow Burn…perhaps it was too recent for me to emotionally detach. (B+)

The Impossible Whopper. All the people saying that the Impossible patty tastes just like a real burger have either never tasted meat before or don’t pay a whole lot of attention when they eat. It’s the best veggie burger patty I’ve ever had, but it sure ain’t beef. (B)

American Factory. Completely fascinating and straight-forward look at what happens when a Chinese company takes over an old GM factory in Dayton, Ohio. Give this just 5 minutes and you’ll watch the whole thing. (A)

XOXO Festival. Always a creative shot in the arm. (A)

Norman Fucking Rockwell! I tried with this, I really did. I don’t think Lana Del Rey is my cup of tea. (C)

The Handmaid’s Tale (season 3). The show’s producers noticed how much critics praised Elisabeth Moss’s emotional closeups and now season 3 is like 80% just that. Way too much of a good thing. Still, there’s still a good show in here somewhere. (B+)

Do the Right Thing. Somehow still bold and controversial after 30 years. But I confess…I am not sure exactly what the takeaway from this movie is supposed to be. (B+)

Tycho’s 2019 Burning Man Sunrise Set. Always a treat when the latest installment of this series pops online. (A-)

Spider-Man: Far From Home. It was fine but I kept waiting for an extra gear that never came. (B)

Existing Conditions. The drinks here are very precise and well-balanced. Hit ‘em up if you miss Booker & Dax. (B+)

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. Excellent and rhymes with the present in a number of ways. I previously shared a bunch of my highlights from the book. (A)

Keep Going by Austin Kleon. A timely little book. (A-)

Stranger Things (season 3). The best part of this show is the 80s nostalgia and they overdid it this season. (B)

Weather. Tycho switched it up with this album by adding vocals. I hated them at first but they’ve grown on me. (B+)

Apollo 11. The first time around I watched this in a terrible theater with bad audio and didn’t care for it. The second time, at home, was so much better. The footage is stunning. (A)

Apollo 11 soundtrack. Love the first track on this. (A-)

Ex Machina. Still gloriously weird. (A-)

Planet Money: So, Should We Recycle? I don’t 100% agree with their conclusions, but it was interesting to think that recycling might not be the most efficient use of our resources. Pair with an earlier episode on how recycling got started in the US. (B)

Chef’s Table (Virgilio Martinez). Central sounds absolutely bonkers. I hope to make it there someday. (B+)

Silicon Cowboys. Compaq took on IBM in the personal computer space and won. The first season of Halt and Catch Fire was inspired in part by their story. (A-)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Needed more plot. (B)

To Kill a Mockingbird. I listened to this on audiobook and am convinced that Sissy Spacek’s narration made it like 20% more compelling. (A)

Metropolis II. I could have watched this for hours. (A)

redwoods

Redwood trees. (A+++)

The Dahlia Garden in Golden Gate Park. One of my favorite places on Earth. (A+)

Mindhunter (season 2). I love this show. (A)

The Clearing. Not the strongest true crime podcast but still worth a listen. (B)

5G. On my phone (iPhone XS, AT&T), anything less than 4 bars of “5GE” basically equals no service. And there’s no way to revert to LTE. (D+)

Atlanta Monster. Started this after watching Mindhunter s02. Too much filler and poor editing in parts. When they started talking to a conspiracy theorist who has been brainwashed by the convicted killer (or something), I had to stop listening. A pity…this story could use a good podcast. (C)

Booksmart. Second viewing and this may be my favorite movie of the year. So fun. (A)

I’ve also been watching Succession and rewatching all five seasons of The Wire (to test a hypothesis that with the hindsight of the past decade, the fifth season is not as outlandish as everyone thought it was at the time). I’ve slowed way down on listening to Guns, Germs, and Steel on audiobook and reading SPQR — both are interesting but not holding my attention so I may end up abandoning them. I watched the first episode of the second season of Big Little Lies when it was first released but might not finish the rest of it; the reviews of this season have not been great.

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Season Two of Abstract: The Art of Design

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2019

Abstract: The Art of Design is back for a second season on Netflix beginning September 25. The folks featured this time around are artist Olafur Eliasson, architect & designer Neri Oxman, type designer Jonathan Hoefler (whose company provides the fonts for kottke.org), costume designer Ruth E Carter (did the costumes for Do the Right Thing and Black Panther), Ian Spalter (former head of design at Instagram), and toy designer Cas Holman.

The Four Notes of Death

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2019

When something dark and ominous happens onscreen, there’s a good chance that the action is accompanied by a four-note snippet from the dies irae, a 13th-century Gregorian chant used at funerals. It shows up in The Lion King, The Good Place, Lord of the Rings, and It’s a Wonderful Life. This Vox video explores how this “shorthand for something grim” went from chant to Hollywood.

Think back to some of the most dramatic scenes in film history — from The Lion King, The Shining, It’s a Wonderful Life. Besides being sad or scary, they have something else in common: the dies irae. “Dies irae” translates from Latin to “Day of Wrath” — it’s a 13th-century Gregorian chant describing the day Catholics believe God will judge the living and the dead and send them to heaven or hell. And it was sung during one specific mass: funerals.

Alex Ludwig from the Berklee School of Music made a supercut of over 30 films that use dies irae.

The 25 Most Important Characters of the Past 25 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2019

I love cross-disciplinary lists like this: The 25 Most Important Characters of the Past 25 Years.

We polled critics and other culture obsessives from Slate and beyond to assemble an enormous master list of influential characters. They were animated and live-action, wizard and Muggle, human and avian, fictional and based on actual persons, living and dead. They came from movies, books, TV series, video games, tweets, podcasts, comics, songs, and (in a surprise to us) more than one musical. Reflecting our franchise-driven time, many of them came from many of those media at once. The only rule was that they must have originated in a work of culture sometime in the past quarter-century, which meant no Simpsons or hobbits or diner-dwelling New Yorkers who argue about nothing. Then we ruthlessly winnowed down the list to the most crucial of those characters, the ones who have left an outsize mark on our planet circa 2019, to assemble this new pantheon.

Hermione Granger

Many of my favorite characters made it on there: Thomas Cromwell from Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies; Omar Little from The Wire; Tracy Flick from Election; and Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, a much more inspired pick than the titular hero for reasons I’ve already articulated. The full list is worth a read.

Mister Rogers Cuts a Record

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2019

From a 1972 episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Mister Rogers demonstrates how to make a record using a machine called a record cutter (also referred to as a “record lathe”). Says Rogers, apparently living his best life: “When I was a little boy, I thought the greatest thing in the world would be to be able to make records.” (via open culture)

A Fresh Guide To Florence With Fab 5 Freddy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 25, 2019

Music pioneer Fab 5 Freddy is most well-known for hosting the seminal Yo! MTV Raps, but his earliest public attention came because of his art.

In the late 1970s, Freddy became a member of the Brooklyn-based graffiti group the Fabulous 5, known for painting the entire side of New York City Subway cars. Along with other Fabulous 5 member Lee Quiñones, under his direction they began to shift from street graffiti to transition into the art world and in 1979 they both exhibited in a prestigious gallery in Rome Italy, Galleria LaMedusa. In 1980, he painted a subway train with cartoon style depictions of giant Campbell’s Soup cans, after Andy Warhol.

Freddy is back on the art scene as the host of a BBC2 documentary, A Fresh Guide To Florence With Fab 5 Freddy.

Hip hop pioneer Fred Brathwaite — aka Fab 5 Freddy — goes on a quest to uncover the hidden black figures of Italian Renaissance art. “Not only were Renaissance artists making art that defined high aesthetic ideals, but they were also groundbreaking in showing an ethnically diverse, racially mixed Italy in the 15th and 16th century. You just have to look at the art.”

Pairing a hip hop legend with Renaissance art might seem like a bit of a stretch, but NYC in the 70s and 80s was a place that a curious kid could get into all sorts of things: hip hop, graffiti, and Caravaggio.

“When I was a kid,” he says, “I would cut school to travel around Manhattan museums.” The Metropolitan was his favourite because of its lax entry policy. “I would show up and toss a nickel in the admissions box then spend a day in fantasy land, going from English armour to Renaissance paintings, pop art to expressionism.”

It was an unusual interest, not one he could share with “the kids on the corner from the hood”. But it sparked his own artistic career as a subway graffiti artist and led to a lasting bond with Basquiat, who he met as a teenager. “He would spend a lot of his childhood at the Brooklyn Museum just as I did at the Met,” he says. “Finally, there was someone I could talk to about Caravaggio and Rothko. We were both so impressed with the radical nature of modernist manifestos like futurism. They gave us — two young, black kids — the capacity to articulate what we wanted to say.”

There doesn’t seem to be a trailer or any clips available online and I don’t know if this will be released in the US at all, but I would love to see this show up on Netflix or Amazon at some point.

See also Susan Orlean’s 1991 profile of Fab 5 Freddy for the New Yorker.

The Spine-Tingling Trailer for Star Trek: Picard

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 22, 2019

Here I was, flying along fat, dumb, and happy (like my dad used to say), not really wanting or needing any more The Next Generation-era Star Trek or Jean-Luc Picard in my life and now this. How could I have been so mindless? This trailer got me so fired up for Star Trek: Picard — the Borg! Data in a drawer! a potty-mouthed Seven of Nine! — that I am practically levitating. Nostalgia is death — inject it directly into my veins.

Live TV Coverage of the Apollo 11 Landing and Moon Walk

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2019

Apollo 11 TV Coverage

You’ve heard by now that it’s the 50th anniversary of the first humans landing on the Moon. On July 20, 1969, 50 years ago today, Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon and went for a little walk. For the 11th year in a row, you can watch the original CBS News coverage of Walter Cronkite reporting on the Moon landing and the first Moon walk on a small B&W television, synced to the present-day time. Just open this page in your browser today, July 20th, and the coverage will start playing at the proper time. Here’s the schedule (all times EDT):

4:10:30 pm: Moon landing broadcast starts
4:17:40 pm: Lunar module lands on the Moon

4:20:15 pm - 10:51:26 pm: Break in coverage

10:51:27 pm: Moon walk broadcast starts
10:56:15 pm: First step on Moon
11:51:30 pm: Nixon speaks to the Eagle crew
12:00:30 am: Broadcast end (on July 21)

Set an alarm on your phone or calendar!

This is one of my favorite things I’ve ever done online…here’s what I wrote when I launched the project in 2009:

If you’ve never seen this coverage, I urge you to watch at least the landing segment (~10 min.) and the first 10-20 minutes of the Moon walk. I hope that with the old time TV display and poor YouTube quality, you get a small sense of how someone 40 years ago might have experienced it. I’ve watched the whole thing a couple of times while putting this together and I’m struck by two things: 1) how it’s almost more amazing that hundreds of millions of people watched the first Moon walk *live* on TV than it is that they got to the Moon in the first place, and 2) that pretty much the sole purpose of the Apollo 11 Moon walk was to photograph it and broadcast it live back to Earth.

I wrote a bit last year about what to watch for during the landing sequence.

Two other things. You can also experience the landing and Moon walk live at Apollo 11 in Real Time. And it looks like CBS News is doing a livestream of Cronkite’s coverage of the landing on YouTube starting at 3:30pm. Nice to see them catching up! :)

Want to Buy a Bob Ross Painting? You Can’t. (And Here’s Why.)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2019

During the course of his television career, Bob Ross painted more than 1000 paintings. But you never see them for sale. You can buy Bob Ross paint sets and even a waffle maker that makes waffles that look like Bob Ross — “Pour in the batter, lower the lid, and before you know it, there’s Bob Ross ready for butter and syrup.” — but good luck buying one of his actual paintings. In this charming little video from the NY Times, we learn where all of Bob Ross’s paintings are, meet the paintings’ custodians, and discover why the art isn’t for sale.

In 1994, the talk show host Phil Donahue asked Mr. Ross to “say out loud your work will never hang in a museum.”

“Well, maybe it will,” Mr. Ross replied. “But probably not the Smithsonian.”

Some of Ross’s paintings can be viewed at The Bob Ross Art Workshop & Gallery in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Every episode of The Joy of Painting can be viewed on YouTube or sometimes streaming on Twitch. I watched on Twitch for a couple minutes just now and was tickled to catch him saying one of his signature phrases: “happy little trees”.

The Simpsons Intro Reimagined as a Russian Art Film

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 09, 2019

The Simpsons has never exactly portrayed its characters in a flattering light, but this version of the show’s title sequence reimagined as a Russian art film by Lenivko Kvadratjić is downright depressing. (via bb)

My Recent Media Diet, Summer Solstice 2019 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2019

I keep track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month. I just started reading In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson; I loved his The Devil in the White City. On the TV front, I’m holding off on season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale and season 2 of Big Little Lies for some reason…don’t want to get sucked into anything right now, I guess. Ditto for catching up on the Historical Cinematic Universe…just not feeling it at the moment. As always, don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades…they’re higher in the summer than in the cold, depressing winter.

Deadwood: The Movie. A fitting end to one of the best shows on TV. It was great to be able to spend a little more time with it. (A-)

Booksmart. I loved this movie. Great soundtrack too. (A)

Thermapen Mk4. Finally got tired of my anxiety about overcooking my meat. Been using it with the reverse sear to great effect. (B+)

Serial season 3. I couldn’t make it through more than two episodes of each of the previous two seasons, but I went the distance on this one. Is the American system of justice just? I doubt it. (A-)

Working by Robert Caro. The DVD extras for The Power Broker and the LBJ books. I don’t have time to read a 3000-page biography of Lyndon Johnson right now, but Working made me want to do it anyway. (A-)

Persuasion System. The latest album from Com Truise. Great for working to. (B+)

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. An idiosyncratic and deeply personal little museum. I felt very much at home there. (A)

Small Steps, Giant Leaps. Apollo 11 artifacts paired with historic scientific tomes from the likes of Galileo & Newton go together like chocolate and peanut butter. (A-)

Mary Queen of Scots. Nothing much here to distinguish this from your usual historical drama. (B)

Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris. Great show at the MFA. Was not a particular fan of Toulouse-Lautrec before but perhaps I am now. (A-)

Street Food. Interesting to compare this to David Gelb’s other show, Chef’s Table. Same focus on quality ingredients and serving great food, but very different ends of the economic spectrum. (B+)

Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Caught the peak of the cherry blossoms. Beautiful. But crowded. (A-)

Salt Fat Acid Heat. This wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I can see what other people love about it. The final episode is the strongest and I thought Nosrat’s emphasis on shopping as a vital part of cooking was interesting. (B)

Summer in Vermont. It’s been spectacular here lately. (A)

Normal People by Sally Rooney. I burned through this in only two days. (A)

Cumulonimbus Mammatus

Cumulonimbus mammatus. They’re no asperitas clouds, but cumulonimbus mammatus is still one of the best clouds around. (A)

The Ezra Klein Show interview with Alison Gopnik. Gopnik’s ideas about gardeners vs carpenters and explore vs exploit are fascinating frameworks for thinking about human creativity. (A-)

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. It’s tough to maintain a coherent story told over several generations, but Lee manages it easily. (A-)

No Country for Old Men. Masterful. (A)

Chernobyl. Sometimes bureaucracy is no match for the truth. See also the accompanying podcast. (A-)

The Lives of Others. Got on a bit of a Cold War kick. (A-)

Always Be My Maybe. Strong ending. (B+)

Toy Story 4. Hollywood is often accused of being super liberal, but I thought the values depicted in this movie were quite conservative. (B+)

Anima. Thom Yorke’s solid third solo album. (B+)

13 Minutes to the Moon. There’s lots of Apollo stuff out there right now and some of it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. But this podcast from the BBC is substantial, with interviews from key players, including Apollo software engineer Margaret Hamilton, who doesn’t give many interviews these days. (A-)

Bad Times at the El Royale. Rhymes with Tarantino but not that well. This should have been 90 minutes long. (B-)

Long Shot. Why did this flop? It’s not exactly great but it works fine. (B)

Whitney Biennial 2019. Things that caught my eye were Christine Sun Kim’s hand-drawn graphs about “deaf rage” and Jeanette Mundt’s paintings of Olympic gymnasts based on these composite photos in the NY Times. (B)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

A Documentary on Jim Henson’s Creative Life

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 24, 2019

Defunctland has produced a six-part documentary series on Jim Henson. Each episode focuses on a different creative project that Henson did. Here’s the trailer:

The first four episodes are already out…here’s the second episode on Sesame Street:

You can watch the rest of them on YouTube.

Vintage TV Test Patterns

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2019

It’s hard to believe now, but television didn’t used to be a 24/7/365 affair. TV stations stopped broadcasting late at night and when they were off the air, they would commonly display a test pattern until programming resumed in the morning.

Used since the earliest TV broadcasts, test cards were originally physical cards at which a television camera was pointed, and such cards are still often used for calibration, alignment, and matching of cameras and camcorders.

From Wikimedia Commons and Present & Correct, here are some vintage test patterns:

TV Test Patterns

TV Test Patterns

TV Test Patterns

TV Test Patterns

As you might expect, the BBC test card with the girl and clown has both a backstory and a cult following.

One of the most-used test images was RCA’s “Indian-head” test pattern:

TV Test Patterns

As this annotated version shows, each of the card’s elements had a specific testing purpose:

TV Test Patterns

If you’re feeling extra nostalgic, here’s 36 minutes of vintage test patterns from all around the world:

Photos from the Chernobyl Disaster in 1986

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2019

Chernobyl

Chernobyl

Alan Taylor has put together a selection of photos taken in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union in 1986. You may have seen some of these scenes recreated in HBO’s Chernobyl miniseries.

Liquidators clean the roof of the No. 3 reactor. At first, workers tried clearing the radioactive debris from the roof using West German, Japanese, and Russian robots, but the machines could not cope with the extreme radiation levels so authorities decided to use humans. In some areas, workers could not stay any longer than 40 seconds before the radiation they received reached the maximum authorized dose a human being should receive in his entire life.

See also more recent photos of Chernobyl and the exclusion zone and Masha Gessen’s take on what HBO’s series got wrong.

Ikea Recreates Famous TV Living Rooms Using Only Their Furniture

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2019

For an ad campaign running in the United Arab Emirates, Ikea recreated the famous TV living rooms from three shows using only Ikea furniture and housewares. See if you can guess which shows these are from…

Ikea TV Rooms

Ikea TV Rooms

Ikea TV Rooms

(via @mkobach)

Chasing the Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2019

In July, American Experience will air Chasing the Moon, a 6-hour documentary film about the effort to send a manned mission to the Moon before the end of the 1960s.

The series recasts the Space Age as a fascinating stew of scientific innovation, political calculation, media spectacle, visionary impulses and personal drama. Utilizing a visual feast of previously overlooked and lost archival material — much of which has never before been seen by the public — the film features a diverse cast of characters who played key roles in these historic events. Among those included are astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Frank Borman and Bill Anders; Sergei Khrushchev, son of the former Soviet premier and a leading Soviet rocket engineer; Poppy Northcutt, a 25-year old “mathematics whiz” who gained worldwide attention as the first woman to serve in the all-male bastion of NASA’s Mission Control; and Ed Dwight, the Air Force pilot selected by the Kennedy administration to train as America’s first black astronaut.

Among the stories not usually told about the Moon missions is that of Ed Dwight, NASA’s first black astronaut trainee:

Since 2019 is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, there’s a *lot* of stuff out there about the Space Race and Apollo program, but this film looks like it’s going to be one of the best. The film will start airing on PBS on July 8 and the Blu-ray & DVD comes out on July 9. There’s a companion book that will be available next week.

The Trailer for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

posted by Jason Kottke   May 30, 2019

The first trailer for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Netflix’s long-awaited prequel to Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, is finally here. From Vanity Fair:

The new series, which takes place years before the events of the original film, follows three creatures, called Gelfling, who discover the horrifying secret behind the power of a group of villainous critters called the Skeksis. The heroes — Taron Egerton’s Rian, Anya Taylor-Joy’s Brea, and Nathalie Emmanuel’s Deet — embark on an epic journey to ignite the fires of rebellion and save their world, which, at the time of the film, is dying, with sickness spreading across the land as the Skeksis control the powerful Crystal of Truth.

As you can see from the trailer, the series uses puppets and not CGI characters, just like the original. The 10-part series debuts on Netflix on August 30. In the meantime, the original 1982 movie is available on Netflix right now.

My Recent Media Diet, The “It’s Not Life or Death, It’s Just Tacos” Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2019

I keep track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past two months. I never wrote a proper report on my trip to Mexico City, so I put some of the highlights in here. I’m in the middle of several things right now. On TV, I’m watching Our Planet, In Search of Greatness, Street Food, Chernobyl, The Clinton Affair, Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, and This Giant Beast That is the Global Economy. I don’t normally watch 19 different things at one time, but life’s felt a little scattered lately. For books, I’m listening to Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond on audiobook and I’m making good progress on Robert Caro’s Working (highly recommended).

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan. Hard to summarize but there’s certainly something interesting on almost every page. (A-)

Fleabag. Bitingly funny and poignant, a real gem. (A+)

Skyscraper. Die Hard + the Sherlock Holmes story A Scandal in Bohemia + #sponcon for Big Duct Tape. I love a good disaster movie. (B+)

Mexico City. Great food, vegetation everywhere, beautiful architecture, culturally fascinating, super walkable/bikeable/scooterable. I am definitely visiting here again as soon as I can. (A)

Puyol Taco Omakase. Delicious & fun & a great experience, but I’m not sure the food was obviously so much better than some of the best street food I had in Mexico City. I had this same experience in Bangkok years ago…street food is tough to beat when there’s a thriving culture of markets, carts, and stalls. (B+)

The National Museum of Anthropology. One of my new favorite museums in the world. The only thing possibly more impressive than the collection is the architecture of the building. (A+)

Teotihuacan

Teotihuacán. I had high hopes for this archeological site and I was still blown away by it. (A+)

AirPods. This is my favorite gadget in years, the first real VR/AR device that feels seamless (and not like a Segway for your face). The freedom of wireless headphones feels similar to when I first used a laptop, wifi, and dockless bike share. (A+)

Homecoming. So many things to love about this, but one of my favorites is the shots of the audience watching Beyoncé and the rare moments when she watches them back: “I see you.” And also the way they put a cohesive show together while showcasing individual talents and styles. (A-)

Homecoming: The Live Album. Come on, a marching band playing Beyoncé hits? That this works so well is a small miracle. (A-)

Avengers: Endgame. I liked but didn’t love it. It was like the ST:TNG finale and the Six Feet Under finale mashed together and not done as well. It also seemed too predictable. (B)

Avengers: Age of Ultron. Now that the Thanos narrative arc is complete, this is an underrated installment. (B+)

Casa Luis Barragán. This was like being in someone’s creative mind. The layering of the garden reminded me of Disney’s use of the multiplane camera in the forest scene in Bambi. (B+)

Gelatin Sincronizada Gelitin (NSFW). I was skeptical of this art performance at first — a bunch of half-naked people painting on a moving canvas using paintbrushes coming out of their butts — but it ended up being a really cool thing to experience. (B+)

Game of Thrones. I’m not quite as critical of the final season as everyone else seems to be. Still, it seems like since the show left the cozy confines of George RR Martin’s books, it has struggled at times. (B+)

Wandering Earth. Based on the short story by Liu Cixin (author of the Three Body Problem trilogy), this disaster movie is a little uneven at the start but finishes strong. (B)

Halt and Catch Fire Vol 2. The music was one of the many great things about this show. (A-)

Running from COPS. A podcast about how media and law enforcement in America intersect to great and terrible effect. (B+)

Eating bugs. I tasted crickets, grasshoppers, and grubs at the market: mostly just salty. I had beef tartare and guacamole with grasshoppers on it. They added a nice crunch to the guac. Wouldn’t exactly go out of the way for them, but they weren’t bad. (B)

Panaderia Rosetta. Did I have one of the best pain au chocolat I’ve ever had here? Yes. Yes, I did. Also extremely delicious: everything else I tried. (A-)

Against the Rules. A podcast from Michael Lewis about what’s happening to the concept of fairness in America. The episode about Salvator Mundi, the supposed Leonardo masterpiece, is particularly interesting. (A-)

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth. I have a new appreciation of how much Tolkien did in creating his books: writing, map making, world building, art, constructing languages. (B+)

Frida Kahlo’s Blue House. A striking house with a lush courtyard, but the highlight was seeing Kahlo’s work area much the way she left it when she died. (B+)

Street Food Essentials by Club Tengo Hambre. Mexico City is a huge place with so much to do that I wanted to hit the ground running right away, so I booked this street food tour. Definitely a good idea. We sampled so many different kinds of tacos & gorditas & quesadillas that I lost count. Highlights: huitlacoche quesadillas, al pastor tacos, fresh Oaxaca cheese at the Mercado de San Juan, and the blue corn masa used to make tlacoyos at one of our last stops — probably the best tortilla I’ve ever eaten. (A-)

The Matrix. This came out 20 years ago. I watched it with my 11-yo son the other day and he thought the special effects “held up pretty well”. (A)

Electric scooters. I used the Lime dockless electric scooters for the first time when I was in Mexico City and I loved experience. Easier than a bike and a fun & fast way to get around the city. Cons: the combo of the speed & small wheels can be dangerous and cities generally don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate them yet. (B+)

Paprika. Inventive and visually dazzling. Purportedly an influence on Christopher Nolan’s Inception. (B+)

Oh and just because, here’s a photo I took recently in my backyard that makes it seem like I live in Narnia or The Shire:

Ollie Shed

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

TV & Movie Spy Scene Breakdowns from the Former CIA Chief of Disguise

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2019

For Wired’s series Technique Critique, former CIA Chief of Disguise Jonna Mendez looks at several TV shows and movies to rate how good their spy scenes are.

Mendez gives high marks to characters from Alias and The Americans for effective use of disguises and low marks to The Bourne Identity and Homeland. In relation to Philip’s disguises on The Americans, she discusses the concept of the little gray man, the CIA’s goal for its agents to look like harmless middle-aged men, something she also mentioned in this Washington Post piece:

Rhys makes the case, however, for disappearing under nothing more than a knit cap and a pair of glasses, a scruffy mustache and a messy wig. He becomes the consummate little gray man, invisible, the one nobody can remember was even on the elevator.

Mendez also talks about the three cover identities that CIA agents were not allowed to use: clergy, media figures, and Peace Corps volunteer. She previously did this video with Wired about how the CIA used disguises.